5 Keys to Thinking Big When You’re Starting Small

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One founder rounds up a list of tips for thinking big for small business owners. 

By Marie DeNicola (Founder and CEO, Mainstream Boutique)

Like most small businesses, mine started around our kitchen table. Now we have 35 signed agreements from stores across 12 states, but it didn’t all come over night. The idea for Mainstream Boutique was born during a transient time for my family – I needed a career that would fit around our lifestyle.  At the time, the answer was a direct sales company – I went to homes and businesses selling fashions across the Twin Cities and before long I was doing 100 shows a month. That’s when I knew Mainstream Boutique could turn into something big if I just started thinking big – these are the big questions I asked (and keep asking) that propelled the growth of my small shops to the next level.

Is There A Need?

At Mainstream Boutique, we found a huge need for trendy clothing for women ages 30 and up. Most styles in the marketplace seemed to be geared toward a younger demographic, and the rest appeared matronly.  Second, I saw a need for a place that would assist and advise busy women who didn’t enjoy or just didn’t have the time to shop.  Finally, many women struggle with being fashionable and age-appropriate, so a lot of them end up dressing in a way that actually ages them.

Today, we fill the gap between the large department stores and the smaller boutiques that have pricier and more limited inventory.  Women are shopping differently compared to when I started in the industry; they are not shopping around at malls as much but are seeking a more intimate shopping experience with unique fashions that express their individuality.

If You Don't Have The Experience, Research

I have seen so many women open boutiques without experience in buying, retailing, merchandising or management.  That is a recipe for disaster.  Regardless of your field, take time to work in and study the industry you want to be in. Be sure you have the right foundation for success.

When you are the head of an organization, or attempting to make it big, it is vital you take the time to read about your industry, go to seminars, and continuously feed yourself knowledge.  I went to Barnes & Noble just last week and bought five new business and industry books.  You should always continue reading and learning.

Is It Really Important To Keep Up With New Technologies and Infrastructure?

I have seen many stores close because the owners did not keep up with technology.  Marketing has completely changed the way smaller organizations operate and compete against big companies. You must invest in updated technology to stay relevant.

Even though we have been around for a while, we are seeing an enormous amount of growth - we doubled our size in one year and are continuing to grow at a fast pace.  It is key that we continue to invest to put the right infrastructure and efficiencies in place to handle the growth.

Can I Do This Alone?

Surround yourself with people that do not have the same skills you do.  Understand and embrace their leadership, as your success will depend on them. For example, I know the fashion and retail business, but had to spend a great deal of time learning the craft of franchising.

You must also have the highest integrity in order to influence others to buy into your vision. Thinking BIG is knowing and accepting that you will need help from the people around you to make it to the next level.

What If Things Get Too Hard?

Having a “do what it takes” attitude will get you through the road bumps – and there will be bumps.  The biggest challenges I have faced in growing Mainstream Boutique have turned out to be the best springboards to continued success.

The economy tanked right when I opened my first big store.  Unfortunately, I had to lay people off and an employee actually told me, “This is the beginning of the end.” It was in that moment that I knew failure was not an option. From then on, I did anything and everything to grow this business. Soon after, I began to see my hard work and dedication pay off as that new store grew to be a million dollar business.

To get your business to the next level, be in the moment, seek counsel, know what you are doing, and change and evolve with it. The end goal may seem far off, but the journey to it will put you in the place you need to be.

What other tips do you have for thinking big?

DeNicolaMarieAbout the guest blogger: Marie DeNicola, founder and CEO of Mainstream Boutique, spent years in Los Angeles’s garment district as a buyer, merchandiser and planner. When her husband’s career moved them to Atlanta, Marie became Director of Purchasing for the Art Institutes International.